City’s new finance director is veteran fiscal guardian
by Steven Felschundneff | email@example.com
Following a yearslong search, the City of Claremont announced this week it had hired Nishil Bali to fill its vacant finance director position.
“For almost two years, the city has been in the recruitment process to find a permanent finance director following the appointment of former Finance Director Adam Pirrie to city manager,” Public Information Officer Bevin Handel said in a statement.
Bali will oversee all the finance department’s functions, including the development and oversight of the city’s $59 million budget. Beyond that, the department is responsible for the city’s financial reporting, business licensing, sanitation billing, payroll, front counter services as well as accounts payable and receivable.
Bali will replace interim finance director David Cain, who led the department for the last year.
“It took a long time for me to find someone I thought was worthy of leading our financial services department, and I am thrilled to welcome Nishil to the City of Claremont. I am very confident that he will lead the department well, with his strong financial background and his inclusive, collaborative approach to working with his staff, other departments, and the community,” Pirrie said.
Bali most recently worked as the finance director in Rohnert Park, located in Sonoma County, approximately 50 miles north of San Francisco. Rohnert Park’s population as of the 2020 census was 44,390, slightly higher than Claremont.
“While at Rohnert Park, Bali took initiatives that significantly reduced the city’s long-term liabilities, updated several financial policies, managed rate studies, and led a complex budget while implementing a new financial system,” Handel said.
At Rohnert Park Bali worked to reduce that city’s CalPERS unfunded pension liability from $55 million to just over $8 million in a matter of months. He said the situation here in Claremont is somewhat different because Rohnert Park had significant reserves, including a section 115 pension trust, that could be tapped to make large payments to the state retirement system. Still, this accomplishment will be welcome news here as Claremont works to pay down its own unfunded liability.
Last year the city council approved a request from the finance department to open a section 115 trust, creating a savings vehicle for a portion of Claremont’s pension obligation in addition to the annual payments it makes directly to CalPERS.
Bali earned a master’s business administration in finance from the highly regarded IE Business School, Instituto de Empresa headquartered in Madrid, Spain. He earned a master’s in engineering and project management from the University of California, Berkeley, and holds a certified public finance officer certification from the Government Finance Officers Association and a project management professional certification from the Project Management Institute.
Prior to his stint at Rohnert Park, Bali was the admin and physical services manager for the City of Berkeley, the principal analyst for the city and county of San Francisco and a senior analyst for the San Francisco International Airport.
“Before that in what I call my early career I was in project management working for a construction firm managing budgets for large capital projects [from] 2005 through 2008,” he said.
Bali grew up in Ahmedabad, a city in western India, but was originally from Jammu in the northern part of the country. He began his college education at Gujarat University in Ahmedabad, before coming to the United States to attend U.C. Berkeley.
He met his wife Yuliya during the time he worked in San Francisco and the couple has two children, Nitya, 8, and Rohan, 2. The family now lives in San Dimas.
“It’s a great team,” Bali said about his first impressions of the department. “The city manager is very supportive, and I am looking forward to leveraging all of my experience from prior jobs [and] apply that here. And just see how we can provide quality services to residents of Claremont.”
He described the finance department as the hub and all the other departments as the spokes of a wheel, so that the hub must be in great shape for the wheel to roll. It’s also an internal facing department, meaning there is not a lot of direct contact with the public. As such, its role can sometimes be obscured until it’s time to plan and implement the annual budget.
“Balancing the budget means making sure that we have enough revenues to support our expenditures. One big factor is the economy, and if there is a recessionary environment then we would need to constantly look at what we are spending, how much revenue is coming in and make decisions on the fly so that we remain liquid and our operations are not affected,” Bali said.
This process is an ongoing exercise that the department performs throughout the year and of course, it all starts out with passing a conservative budget. “I think that the city manager has already achieved that during the current proposed budget in June,” he said.
“I think I can focus on getting a handle on the fiscal operations so having a two-year budget is going to help,” he added.
Budgeting is one critical portion of finance, but there are other broad areas that require the finance director’s attention. One is managing investments according to the government code and making sure the city continually makes prudent investment decisions. Another is risk management, which involves looking at insurance premiums and deductibles to ensure the city is protected and not overpaying. Finally, the director must adhere to the highest standards in governmental accounting, auditing, and financial reporting.
“I think one important consideration for us is to be transparent in what we do and seek public input so we can make the best decisions for the community,” Bali said.
Public input can come from the usual channels, such as commenting during city council meetings or during the budgeting workshops. However, Bali said he welcomed input from the community year-round; if someone has a concern or an idea, they are welcome to call his department.
When not working Bali likes to travel and spend time in nature, including hiking with his family. He has yet to explore the many great places for outdoor recreation in our area, such as the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park.
“Right now most of our time is spent in the swimming pool. It’s really hot,” he said.